Posted by Joel Martinsen on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 1:02 PM
Beijing TV profiles a woman named Ma Cheng who writes her name with a particularly obscure character:
In the video, Ma explains that her parents were inspired by a trend where given names are made up of a tripled surname, as inand . For her name, they decided to use a horizontally-composed character rather than the comparatively more common stacked character .
Although Ma says her grandfather found the character in the Cihai, a large dictionary, the show has its doubts that the three-horse cheng character really exists. Intrepid journalists comb through reference works and finally locate it in the Kangxi Dictionary (page scan), where it's listed as a variant form of , "gallop".
What's interesting about Ma's story is how her name has been handled by business and government agencies she's dealt with during her 26 years. Some have hand-written the character, while others have gone the toneless pinyin route: 马CHENG.
More technologically-sophisticated systems have no problem handling her name. It's printed on her passport, and when she flies it only takes a few extra minutes for the airport to figure out how to input the character. And a rental agency demonstrates to reporters how they used a built-in Microsoft Windows tool (the Private Character Editor eudcedit.exe) to build the character themselves.
Predictably, PSB computers are behind the curve, and they've been a major source of the problems Ma Cheng has had with her name. Her first-generation ID card, with its hand-written cheng character, has expired, and because PSB computers are unequipped to handle a printed version, she can't get a second-generation card. Inside the country, passports aren't widely accepted as a valid form of identification for Chinese nationals, so a PSB-issued ID card is pretty much a necessity.
If a name change ultimately turns out to be absolutely necessary, Ma intends to choose the four-character name 马马马马. That name's not exactly problem-free, either: Ma Cheng reads it as "Ma Mamama," but the host seems to think it's "Mama Mama."
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The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.